05/06/2005 11:00PM

Storm the Beach tough to catch

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CHICAGO - Trainer Jim DiVito had gone west Saturday to central Iowa, where Coach Jimi Lee was scheduled to run in a Prairie Meadows sprint stakes. Coach Jimi Lee is the king of the DiVito shed row, at least in terms of talent, speed, and class. But there is another pretty good sprinter named Storm the Beach in the barn, and he runs Monday in the featured first race at Hawthorne.

Although he's no Coach Jimi Lee, Storm the Beach has nonetheless made a mark on the circuit in the last seven months. He was one of the best claims in Chicago last year, taken out of a $10,000 conditioned claimer by DiVito and owner Robert Neumeyer. In eight starts since, Storm the Beach has won five times while earning more than $100,000. An Illinois-bred, he ran through his two statebred allowance conditions, and has beaten third-level allowance horses at Hawthorne. Monday, it is on to his fourth allowance condition, at a straight six furlongs, in a race with only five other horses.

Storm the Beach was recently scratched sick after being entered for a $35,000 claiming price, and his placement under allowance conditions suggests Storm the Beach continues to thrive.

"He was coughing a little bit, and if I was going to run him and lose him, I wanted him to run a big race," DiVito said. "Actually, I had this race circled in my book all along."

Storm the Beach is one of the quickest horses on the grounds, and he works as fast as he runs. His five-furlong clocking here April 21 was 1:02, but the track was slow that morning, and Storm the Beach was fastest among 30 horses to work the distance.

"He's doing good," DiVito said. "He should be fast out of the gate."

If Storm the Beach runs loose on the lead, he will prove difficult to catch, especially since speed often carries well in the first race at Hawthorne. Lil Thomas Too, who beat Storm the Beach by a head earlier this meet, could press from the outside, and Stanislas, fresh off a $50,000 claiming win at Keeneland, also could show some speed.

The pick to upset Storm the Beach, however, is Blackinton, whose last race, on Jan. 1 at Turfway Park, was not a true measure of the horse's ability. More a middle-distance horse much of his career, Blackinton turned back to sprints here last winter and delivered two winning efforts.